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Are phones unsafe in the workplace?

August 6, 2015
 / Safety / , / Equipment / 

As the uses for mobile devices continue to expand, attitudes may shift as well. While there is still great concern regarding the use of mobile devices, whether it be phones or tablets, on work sites, there are also viewpoints highlighting the efficiency that these modern tools are introducing to the industry.

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When used correctly, mobile devices are effective pieces of equipment.

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There is no question that if a worker has his or her eyes on a screen when he or she should be on the job, there is room for accidents. For example, Safety Pro Resources released an article last year highlighting the dangers of using a phone on the job site, such as equipment accidents that can be caused from not paying attention.

"Safety should never be put at risk for the sake of efficiency."

However, while these concerns are valid, the increasing popularity of such devices is not diminishing, and in fact many contractors and construction companies are finding methods of implementing these devices into everyday work protocols. According to a recent study by EMA Contractors, the number of contractors who use their smartphones on job sites jumped 35 percent in the past year. Of those surveyed, 68 percent of contractors stated using their smartphones daily on-site.

This increase in use doesn't mean the hazards have disappeared, rather, new best practices approaches are being implemented, transitioning the construction industry and job sites all over the country to be more mobile friendly.

Reasons for smartphone usage
By and large, the reasons for incorporating phone usage into the work site is to cut down on costs by keeping everyone on the same page, the survey demonstrated. By allowing workers to be in constant contact with each other as well as with suppliers, it is easier to navigate the purchasing process and what is needed when and where.

This constant flow of communication among workers can ensure that projects stay on track. Additionally, enhanced communication establishes that roles and rules are not only understood, but not misunderstood, as noted by Doug Chambers, CEO of FieldLens mobile field management applications, according to zlien. But this doesn't just mean that workers should be sending texts to each other or calling all day long to provide updates. Instead, as smartphones take on a bigger role in the construction industry, it is up to software developers to create products and mobile construction apps that mimic the job workflow.

As with any new piece of equipment on the job site, there is training and understanding required. Phones and tablets should be treated the same way. If these devices are approached by the industry as pieces of equipment or tools to further enhance efficiency, then the proper training and precautionary measures should be put in place to ensure everyone stays safe. Essentially, safety should never be put at risk for the sake of efficiency. They have to go hand in hand.

Using smartphones for safety

In addition to being trained regarding proper smartphone use to ensure site safety, mobile devices can also play a role in identifying hazards and keeping workers on the job site safer overall. For example, all smartphones are equipped with cameras, which makes highlighting risk factors on inspections much simpler. While filing a complaint with a site manager has long been encouraged, workers can now simply take a photo of the hazard or problem and send it off, providing real-time feedback and constant updates.

With construction apps, communication and safety can be enhanced.

According to the Health, Safety and Environmental Press Journal, mobile devices also encourage safety by eliminating the need for an abundance of paper on the job site. Workers often take notes or keep track of updates, which would traditionally require a notepad and a pen or pencil. With a phone, a worker is now only using one hand, and the phone can be stored or removed from a pocket much easier than a bulky notepad.

One of the most significant benefits of workers having phones on them is for isolation purposes. Even if they have no other use for a phone throughout the day, it serves as a lifeline to the outside world should someone get trapped or something go wrong and no one else is around. While this may be problematic if there is no signal, it certainly enhances a worker's chances of receiving assistance quicker, which on a job site can make a huge difference.

Another way smartphones enhance worksite safety is by providing every worker with emergency preparation tactics, according to Occupational Health & Safety Magazine. Instead of giving workers a large binder they are told to memorize, they can have all of that information in their pockets. If something were to go wrong on the job site, a worker would have disaster preparedness guidance just a fingertip away. While it is expected that employees know this information anyway, it never hurts for each person to have all the potential information he or she might need.

Additionally, HCSS is aware of the increasing trend of smartphones being utilized for safety purposes on the work site and want to share in this modern method of efficiency. For a free web tool that allows employees to capture safety observations in the field and email these observations directly to safety personnel, click here.

Capture on-site observations with this free web tool.Safety Observations empowers workers with the ability to capture on-site observations.

What does OSHA say?
The lack of standardized ruling on phones in construction sites doesn't mean the organization doesn't feel strongly about the issue. While there are specific rulings for machine operators, such as the requirement for crane operators to use only a hands-free device while working, there are no blanket rulings one way or another regarding mobile device usage, Curtis Chambers, current president and certified safety professional for OSHA Training Services, noted in a blog last year.

Instead, the administration simply asks construction companies to establish safety regulations and best practices when it comes to phone usage. Implement mobile device training and ensure that workers know how to use phones for efficiency and safety. When treated as tools, mobile devices can be incredibly beneficial to any job site.

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